Second homes: Get in on the ground level of Big Sky ski town

— -- Believe it or not, residents of big-time ski towns like Aspen, Vail and Telluride once had to live without fresh sushi overnighted from Tokyo. If you've ever envied second-home buyers who got in early at those places, before prices went stratospheric, consider Big Sky, a newly emerging town in the Rockies of Montana. But hurry: Six new restaurants have opened there this year.

"Unlike most ski towns, we are not an old town where they found a mountain nearby. We have a killer ski mountain, and the town grew up around it," says Martha Johnson, owner of Rivers to Peaks Real Estate.

They actually have two killer ski mountains, Big Sky and Moonlight Basin. While each is independently owned, their lifts and trail networks connect, essentially forming a single resort with a single lift ticket — a formidable combination that is the nation's largest interconnected ski area, with more than 5,500 acres.

Despite the quality and quantity of the skiing, you can still find tiny starter condos within walking distance of the slopes for $100,000.

At the opposite end of the price spectrum is the Yellowstone Club, a private ski and golf community, with a third ski mountain just for residents. "You can get into a 2-acre lot for $2.5 million," Johnson says.

Until a year ago, there was no ski town here, just the standard base-area amenities: a few ski shops, restaurants and hotels at the bottom of the mountain.

But all that is changing fast.

The base area has undergone a massive redevelopment and is now called the Village Center. Aside from many new residential offerings, it just added 10,000 square feet of commercial space and restaurants.

Six miles away is the new Town Center, a 165-acre pedestrian village built from scratch as the gateway to the region. Plans call for 900 homes, some of which are open. Retail shops, dining, services and entertainment venues are already operating, with more on the way.

"It's exciting for us right now," Johnson says. "Big Sky's plight has always been what to do after a day of epic skiing. Now there is a lot going on — skating, concerts, restaurants."

Summer also is becoming increasingly popular with second-home owners, thanks to some of the nation's best fly fishing, four golf courses and Yellowstone National Park just 12 miles away.

A look at three Big Sky neighborhoods:

•Town Center. This new development ( has quickly become a regional hub, sitting between the Big Sky resort and the high-end private communities of Spanish Peaks and the Yellowstone Club. "Right now, offerings are mostly townhouses in two- to four-unit clusters with garages," says real estate agent Martha Johnson. "There are no small units, only three bedrooms, from $400,000 to $700,000."

•Big Sky Resort. "Big Sky ( is the most affordable option in the area," Johnson says. Besides a handful of small, older units from $100,000, Johnson says most ski-in/ski-out condos at the base village begin at $200,000 to $300,000, while trailside three- and four-bedroom single-family houses begin at $1 million. There are ski-access options in virtually every increment from $200,000 to $3 million.

•The Club at Spanish Peaks. This 3,500-acre gated private golf and ski community also features world-class fly fishing on a private stretch of the Gallatin River, an equestrian center and a village center with spa, performing arts amphitheater and more. Most properties are custom homes, with lots starting at $420,000 and existing homes at $3.2 million. Other options: luxury, hand-hewn cabins starting at $1.5 million and apartments in the main Lodge starting at $1.2 million.